Why is Asia not open to open source?

One of the main draws--and selling point--of open source technology is its much celebrated developer ecosystem. But, according to an industry expert, this community spirit seems to be lacking in Asia.

One of the main draws--and selling point--of open source technology is its much celebrated developer ecosystem. But, according to an industry expert, this community spirit seems to be lacking in Asia.

In Singapore this week, co-founder of open source MySQL database David Axmark, observed that while more Asian companies are adopting open source technology, few are volunteering to provide related services.

So, businesses in the region have to rely on global open source vendors and settle for products that may not be customized to their market's needs. Or, they'll have to pay and wait for the vendors to tweak their products and integrate additional components that are localized for the Asian market.

Axmark wasn't able to explain the lack of developer participation and the shortage of companies willing to step up and offer services to support open source adoption in the region--though he did add that these skills weren't lacking in Asia.

Perhaps, Red Hat can offer an explanation. The open source vendor this week reported a 32 percent increase in sales and 7 percent jump in profits. Despite the upward swing, however, Wall Street analysts lowered the company's shares rating based on views that Red Hat has few opportunities for continual growth.

Even former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos, who's now a Sun Microsystems executive, acknowledged that open source is "not a get-rich-quick scheme". Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst also noted: "A pure service business is not particularly defensible. Some open source companies have not truly figured that out."

On top of that, Linus Torvalds himself admitted that it's not easy to become an efficient Linux programmer because the platform's kernel is complex and can be frustrating to develop on. Torvalds added: "The kernel is about pretty harsh technical issues, and mistakes are really frowned upon."

So, developing for open source not only can be complex, it isn't always exactly lucrative for vendors that want to offer services on the platform. That could explain why few companies in Asia are willing to step up, and develop applications for this market.

Does that mean open source is doomed to fail in the region, and businesses that have adopted the technology will be left stranded? I don't think so.

Open source has come a long way in establishing its place in the enterprise realm. Once perceived with skepticism that it's stable enough to support mission-critical business applications, open source is now evangelized by major vendors such as IBM, Oracle and HP. Today, it has gained market credibility as a viable business platform and is embraced by more enterprises worldwide, including Asia, than before.

As awareness and adoption of open source continues to spread, more companies will hopefully be encouraged to join the developer ecosystem and offer services on the platform. It will take time, as Mickos noted, before market players can see any returns. But there's no reason why Asia--led by software powerhouses China and India--can't contribute and offer its skills to the open source community.

All it takes is one step at a time--not unlike Torvald's advice to Linux developers: "start small" and focus on "trivial patches".

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